Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 January 2018:
As presidential and general elections approach, president Koroma has spent the last few weeks traversing the entire country, in what has been described by the ruling APC party as a ‘thank you tour’. But his ‘thank you tour’ is controversial and causing political tension.
The opposition parties are accusing the president of unbridled abuse and misappropriation of state resources and funds, to pay for his nationwide electioneering, costing millions of dollars, to ensure that his ruling party stays in office – despite growing poverty in the country.
Though the start of election campaign is yet to be officially announced by the country’s National Electoral Commission, the president is using every opportunity to make full use of his final days in office, by personally taking on the de-facto role of election campaign manager of the ruling party’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates – Samura Kamara and Chernor Bah.
Delivering his final New Year’s address to the nation today, president Koroma is fully aware of the political tension that has been created recently, as he ratchets the rhetoric and turns up the heat on the opposition.
“It is understandable that campaigns may be tense, passions may run high. But let us maintain those attributes that are in keeping with the rule of law. Let us go into these elections and come out a stronger, more peaceful and more unified nation. Because in the end, we have only one Sierra Leone,” he tells the nation.
But few in the opposition parties would appreciate his efforts at ameliorating the damage he may be causing to the country’s democracy, as he addresses them: “to my friends on the other side of the political aisle, to our ever-vibrant media and civil society, you have all played your part in no small measure in the last ten years of my presidency. And for those positive roles you played, I am thankful.”
As the president prepares to leave office next year, this – his final New Year’s address would be remembered, if at all, for its pre-election rallying of the ruling party’s supporters, as few in the country would take the president’s upbeat view of the economy and individual prosperity seriously.
This is what president Koroma told the people of Sierra Leone:
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, usually as we shed away the old year, we look forward to the events of the New Year with great hopes, and we make great resolutions in view of our new aspirations. At this moment in particular, our thoughts are focused on March 7th 2018.
Elections everywhere present a great test to a nation’s ability to continue to stay together. While some have passed this test, others have had to resort to unrest that rip them apart. For us in Sierra Leone, we started passing this test when we voted in 1996 against the threat of the barrel of the gun and machetes. We succeeded in restoring democracy.
Subsequent elections right on to 2012 have been acclaimed by the international community. Steadily, we have secured for ourselves great democratic credentials; and to countries the world over, we are a brilliant example of peace and democracy.
But as Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on March 7th to vote for their leaders at ward, parliamentary and presidential levels, our political landscape will once again be redefined. I know that it is common these days to dismiss the importance of politics and political decisions. Yes, it may be typical but unwise. For whether we survive and prosper or decline depends ultimately, on the political decisions we now take.
My belief is that however tough they may be, the right decisions, like the de-amalgamation or the toll road, are always beneficial and should be taken irrespective of opposition to them. We must therefore hold firm, in these heightened political times, to the new framework of efficient economic management through which we have been able to attain one of the highest economic growth rates in world.
We must be bold on reform, including the tax regimes we have implemented, because already these bold decisions, regardless of the critics, are visibly improving our service delivery of energy, pipe borne water, in schools and in hospitals. We must hold on to university reform, which is strategic to nation building.
And in order to end the “laisser-faire” idea of the past, we must further open up our public services to greater diversity, to greater competition and to greater alternatives. For this to happen, we must robustly enforce the changes in our criminal justice system and devise new penalties for abuse of public office just as much as we must do against anti-social behaviour.
Alongside the huge investment we are making, these are an essential part of creating a society of rights and responsibilities.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, the past years have trials and triumphs. Our challenges seemed overbearing – homes were swept off in flash floods; in a merciless mudslide we lost loved ones whom we continue to remember and whose survivors we continue to support.
The footprints of Ebola are still visible in our economy, yet as a government and people, we have been able to rise above the tide and made giant strides in putting our bitter experiences behind us.
Though we witnessed a substantial decline of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at 20.5 percent in 2015, the economy registered growth of 6.1 percent in the past year – thanks to the implementation of sound macroeconomic policies.
As we look back on the last ten years, and forward to the next, we should be proud of the way we have carried with the management of the state; with the way we have built our democracy; with the way we have consolidated our peace; and with the way have responded to the attacks upon our humanity and our economy.
Sierra Leone can be proud of the gallantry with which we fought Ebola, the steadfastness with which we resisted the impacts of the fall in the commodity prices, and the magnanimity with which we responded to the August 14th Mudslide and Flash floods.
Let us therefore maintain and build on the gains we have made together by building more roads and bridges to connect more remote communities; by increasing our energy capacity to stimulate manufacturing and mining activities which will create jobs and other economic activities. Pipe borne water in rural communities is improving, but we need to take supply to far-flung areas.
This demands for an even more ambitious development agenda to complement the Agenda for Change and the Agenda for Prosperity, because our economic growth, though is the highest since independence, needs more boost.
Agricultural productivity is at an appreciable rate, but we need to make available more cash transfers to farmers, provide them with further access to finance and farm inputs. Let us move on faster and in an appreciable way towards agro-processing. These are the resolutions we must make to reduce poverty, for our children, for our working families, and for our aged.
I gave the Anti-Corruption Commission power to prosecute those who take liberties with public funds; let us continue to narrow the space for corruption, but continue to open the space for free speech.
The decisions we must take may not be simple; they may not be popular in the short-term. But in the long term, all will help to set our beloved nation on a course of greater prosperity, security and fairness.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, together we have been able to lay a strong foundation and as I leave, I am confident about a country of fair opportunities, where everyone has the equal chance to develop their potential; and where you get on in life based on hard work, competence, and productivity – not your ethnicity, your region, or your connections.
We can achieve these aspirations faster by further strengthening our governance institutions; by allowing them to function properly; and by enforcing discipline through the fair implementation of the Rule of Law.
I want to end this New Year’s message by thanking my wife, Sia and daughters – Dankay and Alice. You have been the foundation and pillars of my presidency. I would not have been able to carry on without your support, your understanding and your unending love.
To the thousands of our security men and women and our other compatriots in the public service, who have been away from their families for Christmas and the New Year. They have had to forfeit their holidays and the celebrations we enjoy with our families in the service of our nation.
Over and over and again, our security forces have earned a reputation for their dedication to service for which we all owe them a huge debt of appreciation.
Many thanks to all those who have served in my cabinet, past and present, to all those who served in parliament and in the councils. To my staffers in the Office of the President at State House and elsewhere, you deserve special thanks because throughout my tenure, in good and bad times, you are the unseen hands and brains behind the implementation of my policies and in the day – to – day execution of my mandate.
To my brothers, my sisters, my dear aunts; and to all members of my extended family and my friends – your support has been substantial and enduring.
To the greatest party in our country’s history – the All People’s Congress – its National Officers and more importantly, its members and grass root supporters, I cannot thank you enough for trusting in me twice with the leadership of our party; you are the main reason I became President and to you I am deeply indebted.
And to all Sierra Leoneans, the students and pupils, the ordinary man and woman on the farms, in the market places, in the Lorry Parks, at the Motor Bike points, the technicians of various trades; and to my friends on the other side of the political aisle, to our ever vibrant media and civil society – you have all played your part in no small measure in the last ten years of my presidency. And for those positive roles you played, I am thankful.
Once again, as we bid 2017 farewell, we must resolve never to reverse the progress we have made so painstakingly together; we must remember that Sierra Leone’s best days are ahead; that we are on course to attain middle income status within the projected period.
It is therefore our duty to preserve our reputation and maintain our development strides, bearing in mind that Sierra Leone is easier to be run as a unified nation.
It is understandable that campaigns may be tense, passions may run high. But let us maintain those attributes that are in keeping with the rule of law. Let us go into these elections and come out a stronger, more peaceful and more unified nation. Because in the end, we have only one Sierra Leone.
Happy New Year, God Bless you, and God Bless the Republic of Sierra Leone.”